17-2 Collabrative Learning

2th Februrary  2017        Theresa   ChinereYoyo

                                                                 Collabrative Learning

Many of these difficulties require skillful management by the teacher. If a students wants to work alone, let them from time to time. Meet your students half way and group them appropriately according to level and skills. Yes, working together may take longer, but I’m hoping to show that we can achieve more together than alone, so it’s time well spent. We’re going to look briefly at large classrooms later, but as to whether students learn from other students’ errors, I don’t believe they do. According to Ellis, ‘There is no convincing evidence that learners’ errors derive from the language they are exposed to’ (Ellis, R (1997) Second Language Acquisition Oxford: Oxford University Press, p45. Research does not support this fear.

Focus is on input, which may be something we read or hear. If we ‘notice’ it, pay attention to it by ‘negotiating for meaning’; for example, by asking clarification questions in a process of interaction, then we can process that knowledge as ‘intake’. This process facilitates acquisition.

Russian developmental psychologist, researcher, theorist of child development

Lantolf applied Vygotsky’s theories to SLA

Vygotsky’s definition (Lantolf)  That the zone of proximal development is the difference …

That means the ZPD is created through interaction with experts, such as parents or teachers.

Projects: group presentations, blogs, class newspaper, surveys

Discussions: debates, asking and answering questions, problem-solving

Collaborative writing: dictogloss, blogs, class writing projects, reports on surveys

Grammar: verbalising rules/talking about language, asking questions

Integrated skills: dictogloss, running dictation

Assessment: peer assessment, error correction

Reference Material

1     Collaborative learning

Collaborative learning is a situation in which two or more people learn or attempt to learn something together.[1] Unlike individual learning, people engaged in collaborative learning capitalize on one another's resources and skills (asking one another for information, evaluating one another's ideas, monitoring one another's work, etc.).[2][3] More specifically, collaborative learning is based on the model that knowledge can be created within a population where members actively interact by sharing experiences and take on asymmetry roles.[4] Put differently, collaborative learning refers to methodologies and environments in which learners engage in a common task where each individual depends on and is accountable to each other. These include both face-to-face conversations[5] and computer discussions (online forums, chat rooms, etc.).[6] Methods for examining collaborative learning processes include conversation analysis and statistical discourse analysis.[7]

Thus, collaborative learning is commonly illustrated when groups of students work together to search for understanding, meaning, or solutions or to create an artifact or product of their learning. Further, collaborative learning redefines traditional student-teacher relationship in the classroom which results in controversy over whether this paradigm is more beneficial than harmful.[8][9] Collaborative learning activities can include collaborative writing, group projects, joint problem solving, debates, study teams, and other activities. The approach is closely related to cooperative learning.

Contents  [hide]


Theoretical background


Differences from cooperative learning








Cultural variations


Examples from Indigenous communities in the Americas


Examples from Around the World






Abu Dhabi








See also



Theoretical background[edit]

Collaborative learning is rooted in Lev Vygotsky's concept of learning called zone of proximal development. Typically there are tasks learners can accomplish and tasks learners cannot accomplish. Between these two areas is the zone of proximal development, which is a category of things that a learner can learn but with the help of guidance. The zone of proximal development gives guidance as to what set of skills a learner has that are in the process of maturation. In Vygotsky's definition of zone of proximal development, he highlighted the importance of learning through communication and interactions with others rather than just through independent work.[10] This has made way for the ideas of group learning, one of which being collaborative learning.

Collaborative learning is very important in achieving critical thinking. According to Gokhale (1995), individuals are able to achieve higher levels of learning and retain more information when they work in a group rather than individually, this applies to both the facilitators of knowledge, the instructors, and the receivers of knowledge, the students.[11] For example, Indigenous communities of the Americas illustrate that collaborative learning occurs because individual participation in learning occurs on a horizontal plane where children and adults are equal.[12]

Differences from cooperative learning[edit]

There has been a split regarding to the differences between collaborative and cooperative learning. Some believe that collaborative learning is similar, yet distinct from cooperative learning. While both models use a division of labor, collaborative learning requires the mutual engagement of all participants and a coordinated effort to solve the problem whereas cooperative learning requires individuals to take responsibility for a specific section and then coordinate their respective parts together.[13] Another proposed differentiation is that cooperative learning is typically used for children because it is used to understand the foundations of knowledge while collaborative learning applies to college and university students because it is used to teach non-foundations of learning. Another believed difference is that cooperative learning is a philosophy of interaction where collaborative learning is a structure of interaction.[14]

However, many psychologists have defined cooperative learning and collaborative learning similarly. Both are group learning mechanisms for learners to obtain a set of skills or knowledge. Some notable psychologists that use this definition for both collaborative and cooperative learning are Johnson & Johnson, Slavin, Cooper and more.


Often, collaborative learning is used as an umbrella term for a variety of approaches in education that involve joint intellectual effort by students or students and teachers by engaging individuals in interdependent learning activities.[15] Many have found this to be beneficial in helping students learn effectively and efficiently than if the students were to learn independently. Some positive results from collaborative learning activities are students are able to learn more material by engaging with one another and making sure everyone understands, students retain more information from thoughtful discussion, and students have a more positive attitude about learning and each other by working together.[16]

Encouraging collaborative learning may also help improve the learning environment in higher education as well. Kenneth Bruffee performed a theoretical analysis on the state of higher education in America. Bruffee aimed to redefine collaborative learning in academia. Simply including more interdependent activities will help the students become more engaged and thoughtful learners, but teaching them that obtaining knowledge is a communal activity itself.[17]

When compared to more traditional methods where students non-interactively receive information from a teacher, cooperative, problem-based learning demonstrated improvement of student engagement and retention of classroom material.[18] A meta-analysis comparing small-group work to individual work in K-12 and college classrooms also found that students working in small groups achieved significantly more than students working individually, and optimal groups for learning tended to be three- to four-member teams with lower-ability students working best in mixed groups and medium-ability students doing best in homogeneous groups. For higher-ability students, group ability levels made no difference.[19] In more than 40 studies of elementary, middle, and high school English classrooms, discussion-based practices improved comprehension of the text and critical-thinking skills for students across ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.[20] Even discussions lasting as briefly as ten minutes with three participants improved perceived understanding of key story events and characters.[21]


The popularity of collaborative learning in the workplace[22] has increased over the last decade. With the emergence of many new collaborative tools, as well as the cost benefit of being able to reinforce learning in workers and in trainees during collaborative training, many work environments are now looking toward methods that involve collaborating with older employees and giving trainees ore of a hands-on approach. Most companies are transitioning from traditional training programs that include instructor-led training sessions or online guided tutorials. Collaborative learning is extremely helpful because it uses past experiences from prior employees to help new trainees get over different challenges.

There are many facets to collaboration in the workplace. It is critical to helping worker's share information with each other and creating strategic planning documents that require multiple inputs. It also allows for forms of vertical integration to find effective ways to synchronize business operations with vendors without being forced to acquire additional businesses.[23]

Many businesses still work on the traditional instructor and trainee model and as they transition from one model to another there are many issues that still need to be debugged in the conversation process:

Need to understand actual interests and concerns regarding collaborating processes, activities and tools

Reigning leaders and managers must better understand the collaborative tools and processes that can boost productivity

Become better equipped to design, implement and evaluate collaborative learning environment

Web technologies have been accelerating learner-centered personalized learning environments. This helps knowledge be constructed and shared, instead of just passed down by authorities and passively consumed or ignored. Technologies such as discussion threads, email or electronic bulletin boards by sharing personal knowledge and ideas do not let others refine individual ideas so we need more collaborative tools. Now these tools on Web 2.0 have been able to enhance collaborative learning like no other because it allows individuals to work together to generate, discuss and evaluate evolving ideas. These tools allow for them to find people that are like minded and collaborate with them effortlessly.

According to a collaborative learning study conducted by Lee & Bonk (2014), there are still many issues that are still being resolved when dealing with collaborative learning in a workplace. The goal was to examine corporate personnel, including learning managers and instructors, plus the tools that they use for collaboration. The researchers conducted an online survey to see what aspects of collaborative learning should be investigated, followed by an open discussion forum with 30 corporate personnel. The results showed that collaboration is becoming very necessary in workplaces and tools such as wikis are very commonly used. There is implication for a lot of future work, in order to have collaborative learning be highly effective in the workplace. Some of the unsolved problems they identified:

Cultural diversity, and accordingly a lack of awareness of cultural norms

Geographical distance and time zone differences

Member isolation in virtual teams

Generation gaps and age differences in the acceptance of collaboration tools

Lack of technology support for learners

Lack of learners' awareness about effective collaboration processes and strategies

Lack of learners' technological skills and knowledge about collaboration tools [22]

It is crucial to consider the interactive processes among people, but the most critical point is the construction of new knowledge brought about through joint work.


Technology has become an important factor in collaborative learning. Over the past ten years, the Internet has allowed for a shared space for groups to communicate. Virtual environments have been critical to allowing people to communicate long-distances but still feel like they are part of the group. Research has been conducted on how technology has helped increase the potential of collaborative learning.One study in particular conducted by Elizabeth Stacey looked at how technology affected the communication of postgraduate students studying a Master of Business Administration (MBA) using computer-mediated communication (CMC). Many of these students were able to still remotely learn even when they were not present on their university campus. The results of the study helped build an online learning environment model but since this research was conducted the Internet has grown extensively and thus new software is changing these means of communication.[24]

There has been a development of new technology that support collaborative learning in higher education and the workplace. These tools allow for a strong more power and engaging learning environment. Chickering identified seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education developed by Chickering.[25] Two of these principles are especially important in developing technology for collaboration.

"Good practice develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,"

Good practice uses active learning techniques.[25]

Some examples of how technology is being increasingly integrated with technology are as follows:

Collaborative networked learning – According to Findley (1987) "Collaborative Networked Learning (CNL) is that learning which occurs via electronic dialogue between self-directed co-learners and learners and experts. Learners share a common purpose, depend upon each other and are accountable to each other for their success. CNL occurs in interactive groups in which participants actively communicate and negotiate learning with one another within a contextual framework which may be facilitated by an online coach, mentor or group leader.

Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is a relatively new educational paradigm within collaborative learning which uses technology in a learning environment to help mediate and support group interactions in a collaborative learning context.[26][27] CSCL systems use technology to control and monitor interactions, to regulate tasks, rules, and roles, and to mediate the acquisition of new knowledge.

Collaborative Learning Using Wikipedia: Wikipedia is an example of how collaborative learning tools have been extremely beneficial in both the classroom and workplace setting. They are able to change based on how groups think and are able to form into a coherent idea based on the needs of the Wikipedia user.

Collaborative learning in virtual worlds Virtual words by their nature provide an excellent opportunity for collaborative learning. At first learning in virtual worlds was restricted to classroom meetings and lectures, similar to their counterparts in real life. Now collaborative learning is evolving as companies starting to take advantage of unique features offered by virtual world spaces - such as ability to record and map the flow of ideas,[17] use 3D models and virtual worlds mind mapping tools.

Cultural variations[edit]

There also exists cultural variations in ways of collaborative learning. Research in this area has mainly focused on children in indigenous Mayan communities of the Americas or in San Pedro, Guatemala and European American middle-class communities.

Generally, researchers have found that children in indigenous Mayan communities such as San Pedro typically learn through keenly observing and actively contributing to the mature activities of their community.[28] This type of learning is characterized by the learner's collaborative participation through multi-modal communication verbal and non-verbal and observations.[28] They are highly engaged within their community through focused observation.[29] Mayan parents believe that children learn best by observing and so an attentive child is seen as one who is trying to learn.[29] It has also been found that these children are extremely competent and independent in self-maintenance at an early age and tend to receive little pressure from their parents.[29]

Research has found that even when Indigenous Mayan children are in a classroom setting, the cultural orientation of indigenous learners shows that observation is a preferred strategy of learning.[30] Thus children and adults in a classroom setting adopt cultural practice and organize learning collaboratively.[30] This is in contrast to the European-American classroom model, which allocates control to teachers/adults allowing them to control classroom activities.[31]

Within the European American middle-class communities, children typically do not learn through collaborative learning methods. In the classroom, these children generally learn by engaging in initiation-reply-evaluation sequences.[28] This sequence starts with the teacher initiating an exchange, usually by asking a question. The student then replies, with the teacher evaluating the student's answer.[32] This way of learning fits with European-American middle-class cultural goals of autonomy and independence that are dominant in parenting styles within European-American middle-class culture.[28]

Examples from Indigenous communities in the Americas[edit]

Although learning happens in a variety of ways in indigenous communities, collaborative learning is one of the main methods used in indigenous learning styles instead of using European-American approaches to learning. These methods include learning in a horizontal plane where children and adults share contribution in ideas and activities.

For example, Mayan people of San Pedro use collaboration in order to build upon one another's ideas and activities. Mayan mothers do not act as teachers when completing a task with their children, but instead collaborate with children through play and other activities.[33] People of this Mayan community use the shared endeavors method more than European-Americans who tend to use the transmit-and-test model more often.[34] The shared endeavors model is when people go off of others ideas[clarification needed] and learn from them, while the transmit-and-test model is what is used in most American schools when a teacher gives students information and then tests the students on the information.[34] The shared endeavors model is a form of collaborative learning because everyone learns from one another and are able to hear and share others' ideas.

In Nocutzepo, Mexico, indigenous heritage families form collective units where it is generally agreed that children and youth engage in adult cooperative household or community economic practices such as food preparation, child care, participating in markets, agriculture, animal herding, and construction to name a few.[35] During planting and harvesting season, entire families are out in the fields together where children usually pitch into the activity with smaller tasks alongside adults; however, are always observant when it comes to activities done by adults, such as driving a tractor or handling an axe.[35] These children learn through imitation, observation, listening, pitching in, and doing activities in a social and cultural context.[34] When children begin to participate in the daily family/community activities, they form a sense of belonging, especially when they collaborate with adults establishing a more mature integration with their family and community.

Indigenous people of the Americas utilize collaborative learning through their emphasis on role sharing and responsibility sharing within their communities. The Mayan community of San Pedro, Guatemala utilizes flexible leadership that allows children to have an active role in their learning.[36] Children and adults work as cohesive groups when tackling new projects.[36] Collaborative learning is prevalent in Indigenous communities due to the integration of children in the daily lives of the adults.[37] Age is not a determining factor in whether or not individuals are incorporated into collaborative efforts and learning that occurs in indigenous communities.

Participation of learner is a key component to collaborative learning as it functions as the method by which the learning process occurs. Thus collaborative learning occurs when children and adults in communities switch between "knowledge performers" and "observing helpers".[38] For example, when parents in an indigenous Mazahua community where assigned the task of organizing children to build a roof over a market stand in such a way that they would learn to do it themselves, parents and children both collaborated on a horizontal structure. Switching between knowledge performer and observing helper, adults and children completed the task peacefully, without assigned roles of educator/student and illustrated that children still took initiative even when adults were still performing.[38]

Adults and children in indigenous communities of the Americas participate in a horizontal organizational structure; therefore when they work together with one another they are reciprocals of each other.[39] This horizontal structure allows for flexible leadership, which is one of the key aspects of collaborative learning. The indigenous communities of the Americas are unique in their collaborative learning because they do not discriminate upon age, instead Indigenous communities of the Americas encourage active participation and flexible leadership roles, regardless of age. Children and adults regularly interchange their roles within their community. In addition, Indigenous communities consider observation to be a part of the collaborative learning process.[38]

Collaborative learning can also be incorporated into university settings. For example, the Intercultural Maya University of Quintana Roo, Mexico, has a system that incorporates elders, such as grandparents to act as tutors and as a resource for students to discuss information and knowledge regarding their own language and culture. The elders give their recommendation at the end of a semester in the decision of passing or failing a student, based on his/her behavior in the community and how well he/she is learning Maya. The system is called IKNAL, a maya word that implies companionship in the learning and doing process which involves several members of the community.[40]

Examples from Around the World[edit]

Collaborative learning varies across the world. The traditional model for learning is instructor based but that model is quickly changing on a global standpoint as countries fight to be at the top of the economy. A country's history, culture, religious beliefs and politics are all aspects of their national identity and these characteristics influence on citizen's view of collaboration in both a classroom and workplace setting.[41]


The culture in Germany values formality, neatness, and traditional style of education so you will most likely find individualized approach to teaching where the teacher will lecture a group of students. They also value a strong work ethic making learning very competitive so they do not usually collaborate naturally.[citation needed]


The same teacher student method that is used in many countries is the norm for Ghana as well. They are hierarchical society so people are given respect based on age, wisdom, experience, wealth or position. So they expect people that are leaders to make the decision for the entire group. Students do not feel free to interact with instructors so collaboration is very difficult. Younger children are trained to refrain from challenging authorities so children always expect to be taught. (Dr. Stephen Asunka, director of instructional Technology & Media at Regent University)[citation needed]

Abu Dhabi[edit]

Culture is very much mixed with religion in Abu Dhabi. Many of the rules that are followed are based on Islam. The rules regarding modesty and strong gender segregation. This does not help collaboration between genders. An example is having Emirati employees in a room and only women were allowed to attend. Much more structured than anywhere else.[citation needed]


They place a high value on education and hard work. There is always a competitive drive to succeed. It is very similar to the United States but it is considered impolite to question a teacher. We need to break the silence mindset, once the interaction happens it will be incredibly valuable.[citation needed]


While the empirical research in Japan is still relatively sparse, many language educators have taken advantage of Japan's natural collectivism and experimented with collaborative learning programs[42][43][44][45] More recently, technological advancements and their high adoption rate among students in Japan [46] have made computer supported collaborative learning accessible.[47][48][49] Japanese student's value for friendship and their natural inclination towards reciprocity seems to support collaborative learning in Japan.[50]


Collaborative learning development Enables developers of learning systems to work as a network. Specifically relevant to e-learning where developers can share and build knowledge into courses in a collaborative environment. Knowledge of a single subject can be pulled together from remote locations using software systems.[citation needed]

Collaborative learning in thesis circles in higher education is another example of people learning together. In a thesis circle, a number of students work together with at least one professor or lecturer, to collaboratively coach and supervise individual work on final (e.g. undergraduate or MSc) projects. Students switch frequently between their role as co-supervisor of other students and their own thesis work (incl. receiving feedback from other students).[citation needed]

Collaborative learning in a composition classroom can unite students when assigned open-tasks. Kenneth Bruffee introduced the learning method, Classroom Consensus Group, in which the instructor allocates groups of three to five (three being ideal) students and assigns a problem to be solved or question to be answered. There are two directions the nonfoundational task can be presented: as an indistinct, no right answer that generates discussion or propose an answer and request questions and a process of how the answer came to be. Once the task is assigned, the instructor backs off in order to resist the urge to intervene in students' conversation. The goal is to remove focus of the instructor's authority. The instructor must keep time to ensure the students are centered on analogizing, generalizing, and bridging their comprehension with others. Following group discussion, the instructor is to evaluate, not judge, the students' work. Ideas should be presented to the entire class thus allowing the small groups to come together as a whole. It is then that the answers can be compared, gaps can be filled, and authority is not on one individual.[51]

Collaborative scripts structure collaborative learning by creating roles and mediating interactions while allowing for flexibility in dialogue and activities.[52][53] Collaborative scripts are used in nearly all cases of collaborative learning some of which are more suited for face-to-face collaborative learning—usually, more flexible—and others for computer-supported collaborative learning—typically, more constraining.[52][53] Additionally, there are two broad types of scripts: macro-scripts and micro-scripts. Macro-scripts aim at creating situations within which desired interactions will occur. Micro-scripts emphasize activities of individual learners.[52]

See also[edit]

Wikiversity has learning resources about Collaborative learning

Active learning

Cooperative learning

Collaborative information seeking

Educational psychology

Intergenerational equity

Learning by teaching (LdL)

Learning circle

Learning community

Teaching for social justice

Youth/adult partnerships

Numbers heads together


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Collaborative Learning: Group Work

What is collaborative learning? 

What is the impact of collaborative learning or group work?

What are some examples of collaborative learning activities?

How can you design group work activities?

How can you manage group work?

How can you evaluate group work?

What are some general strategies to keep in mind when incorporating group work?

What is collaborative learning?

Collaborative learning is based on the view that knowledge is a social construct. Collaborative activities are most often based on four principles:

The learner or student is the primary focus of instruction.

Interaction and "doing" are of primary importance

Working in groups is an important mode of learning.

Structured approaches to developing solutions to real-world problems should be incorporated into learning.

Collaborative learning can occur peer-to-peer or in larger groups. Peer learning, or peer instruction, is a type of collaborative learning that involves students working in pairs or small groups to discuss concepts, or find solutions to problems. This often occurs in a class session after students are introduced to course material through readings or videos before class, and/or through instructor lectures. Similar to the idea that two or three heads are better than one, many instructors have found that through peer instruction, students teach each other by addressing misunderstandings and clarifying misconceptions. For more on peer learning, visit The Official Peer Instruction Blog.

Group work or collaborative learning can take a variety of forms, such as quick, active learning activities in class or more involved group projects that span the course of a semester.

What is the impact of collaborative learning or group work?

Research shows that educational experiences that are active, social, contextual, engaging, and student-owned lead to deeper learning. The benefits of collaborative learning include:

Development of higher-level thinking, oral communication, self-management, and leadership skills.

Promotion of student-faculty interaction.

Increase in student retention, self-esteem, and responsibility.

Exposure to and an increase in understanding of diverse perspectives.

Preparation for real life social and employment situations.

What are some examples of collaborative learning or group work activities?

Stump your partner

Students take a minute to create a challenging question based on the lecture content up to that point.

Students pose the question to the person sitting next to them.

To take this activity a step further, ask students to write down their questions and hand them in. These questions can be used to create tests or exams. They can also be reviewed to gauge student understanding.

Think-pair-share/ Write-pair-share

The instructor poses a question that demands analysis, evaluation, or synthesis.

Students take a few minutes to think through an appropriate response.

Students turn to a partner (or small groups) and share their responses. Take this a step further by asking students to find someone who arrived at an answer different from their own and convince their partner to change their mind.

Student responses are shared within larger teams or with the entire class during a follow-up discussion.


Stop at a transition point in your lecture.

Have students turn to a partner or work in small groups to compare notes and ask clarifying questions.

After a few minutes, open the floor to a few questions.

Fishbowl debate

Ask students to sit in groups of three.

Assign roles. For example, the person on left takes one position on a topic for debate, the person on right takes the opposite position, and the person in the middle takes notes and decides which side is the most convincing and provides an argument for his or her choice.

Debrief by calling on a few groups to summarize their discussions.

Case study

Create four to five case studies of similar difficulty.

Have students work in groups of four or five to work through and analyze their case study.

Provide 10-15 minutes (or adequate time to work through the cases).

Walk around and address any questions.

Call on groups randomly and ask that students share their analysis. Continue until each case study has been addressed.

Team-based learning (adapted from L.K. Michaelsen in Davis, 2009. p.215)

Start a course unit by giving students some tasks to complete, such as reading or lab assignments. Consider assigning these to be completed before class.

Check students' comprehension of the material with a quick multiple-choice quiz. Have students submit their answers.

Assign students to groups and have them review their answers with group members to reach consensus. Have each group submit one answered quiz.

Record both the individual student assessment scores and the final group assessment score (both of which are used toward each student's course grade).

Deliver a lecture that specially targets any misconceptions or gaps in knowledge the assessments reveal.

Give groups a challenging assignment, such as solving a problem or applying a theory to a real world situation.

For more information on this strategy at teambasedlearning.org.

Group problem solving

There are many instructional strategies that involve students working together to solve a problem, including inquiry based learning, authentic learning, and discovery learning. While they each have their own unique characteristics, they all fundamentally involve:

Presenting students with a problem.

Providing some structure or guidance toward solving the problem. Note, however, that they are all student-centered activities in which the instructor may have a very minimal role.

Reaching a final outcome or solution.

Problem-Based Learning is a collaborative, student-centered approach to learning in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem.

How can you design group work assignments?

First, think about the course learning outcomes and how group work might address them. Then consider how groups will be organized, how student learning and group processes will be supported, and how students will be evaluated, if at all.

Short in-class activities may take less planning, but it is still important to consider how the process will play out in a classroom situation.

How will you introduce the activity? How much time is required? How will you debrief as a group? For in-class collaborative activities, focus on asking effective questions that engage students in the types of learning you are trying to encourage.

For more involved projects that take place over a longer period of time and for which students will be graded, plan each stage of the group work.

How will groups be formed? Allowing students to form their own groups will likely result in uneven groupings. If possible, arrange groups by skills and/or backgrounds. For example, ask students to rate their comfort/ability level on a number of skills (research, background knowledge of course topics, work experience, etc.) and try to arrange groups that include “experts” in different areas. Another possibility is to do a preliminary assessment; and then based on the results, purposefully create groups that blend abilities.

How will you ensure that students are productive? Set aside time early in the semester to allow for icebreakers and team-building activities. Consider using class time for group work to eliminate students having to coordinate meeting times outside of class. Much of the group work can be done collaboratively online, again, lessening the difficulty of coordination. See more on how to manage groups in the next question.

What technology might assist the group work? If technology use is required (e.g. wikis), you will need to incorporate learning activities around the use of the technology. At the beginning, do a low stakes activity that helps students become familiar with the technology. If other types of technology can facilitate the group work processes, guide students in its use.

What can the students do? Choose assignment topics or tasks that are related to the real world, and can be connected to students’ lives. For example, have students try to analyze and solve a current local or international problem. Have students complete tasks that involve using and developing skills that they will likely use in their future professional lives, such as writing a proposal or collaborating online. Here are some other considerations for creating effective group work activities:

Break a larger assignment into smaller pieces and set multiple deadlines to ensure that students work toward reaching milestones throughout the process rather than pulling it all together at the last minute.

Incorporate peer review at each milestone to encourage self-awareness and to ensure ongoing feedback.

Tie in-class activities and lectures to the group assignment. For example, in class sessions, provide clues that assist students in their group projects.

Be sure to explain how students will be evaluated and use a rubric to communicate these expectations. See more on how to evaluate group work.

How can you manage group work?

Managing shorter in-class collaborative learning activities

This generally involves a 3-step process:

Introduce the task. This can be as simple as instructing students to turn to their neighbor to discuss or debate a topic.

Provide students with enough time to engage with the task. Walk around and address any questions as needed.

Debrief. Call on a few students to share a summary of their conclusions. Address any misconceptions or clarify any confusing points. Open the floor for questions.

This process can be as short at 5 minutes, but can be longer depending on the task at hand.

Managing larger group work projects

Here are some strategies to help ensure productive group dynamics:

Provide opportunities for students to develop rapport and group cohesion through icebreakers, team-building, and reflection exercises.

Give students time to create a group work plan allowing them to plan for deadlines, and divvy up responsibilities.

Have students establish ground rules. Students can create a contract for each member to sign; this contract can include agreed-upon penalties for those who fail to fulfill obligations.

Assign roles to members of each group and change the roles periodically. For example, one student can be the coordinator, another the note-taker, another the summarizer, and another the planner of next steps.

Allow students to rate each other’s quality and quantity of contributions. Use these evaluations when giving individual grades, but do not let it weigh heavily on a students’ final grade. Communicate clearly how peer assessment will influence grades.

Check in with groups intermittently, but encourage students to handle their own issues before coming to you for assistance.

How can you evaluate group work?

Student group work can result in the production of:



reports of case studies

in-class or video presentations


Here are some ways to provide feedback on group productivity throughout the process as well as on the group product.

Evaluate students on both their contributions to group processes as well as the final product.

Create a detailed explanation of what your expectations are.

Provide scores for individuals as well as groups.

Use rubrics. Consider asking students for feedback and including some of their ideas to the rubric.

Incorporate peer and self-assessment at various milestones. This is a good way to check in on the assignment progress as well as the group dynamics.

Communicate clearly to students at the beginning how you will calculate their grades.

What are some general strategies to keep in mind when incorporating group work?

Introduce group work early in the semester to set clear student expectations.

Plan for each stage of group work.

Carefully explain to your students how groups will operate and how students will be graded.

Help students develop the skills they need to succeed in doing group activities, such as using team-building exercises or introducing self-reflection techniques.

Establish ground rules for participation and contributions.

Consider using written contracts.

Incorporate self and peer assessments for group members to evaluate their own and others' contributions.


Barkely, E.F., Cross, K.P. & Howell Major, C. (2005). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bruffee, K.A. (1998). Collaborative learning: Higher education, interdependence, and the authority of knowledge. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Davis, B.G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed). (pp. 190-221). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Felder, R.M., Felder, G.N. & Dietz, E.J. (1998). A longitudinal study of engineering student performance and retention. V. Comparisons with traditionally-taught students. Journal of Engineering Education, 87(4), 469-480.

Michaelsen, L.K., Knight, A.B. & Fink, L.D. (Eds.) (2004). Team-based learning: A transformative use of small groups in college teaching. Sterling, VA: Stylus.